Turning the Thermostat: How Media Content Moderates the Effect of Policy Spending on Public Preferences [post]

Christopher Williams, Martijn Schoonvelde
2017 unpublished
The thermostatic theory of representation posits that public policy preferences are driven, in part, by the policy actions of governments. That is, when the government provides the public with more policy in a given domain than it desires, public demand in that domain will decrease, and when the government provides less policy than the public desires, public demand for policy in that domain will increase. A large amount of literature has shown empirical support for this theory in various policy
more » ... domains. However, there is also empirical evidence to indicate that the public pays little attention to policy outputs. Thus, the question becomes, if the public is largely unaware of policy output, why does it influence public attitudes? This paper seeks to address this paradox by examining the relationship between change in public policy preferences, policy output, and media attention in a given policy area. To conduct this study, we rely upon data derived from the Policy Agendas Project in the United States, as well as public opinion data measuring the public's relative preferences for spending across multiple policy domains. We find support for the basic premise that policy outputs influence public policy preferences. More interestingly, however, we also find that this relationship is conditioned on the degree of media attention a particular policy area garners. Our results shed new light on the boundary conditions of public responsiveness to policy outcomes, and have important implications for our understanding of representative democracy.
doi:10.31219/osf.io/ymvfb fatcat:4bfq3yfauvalvpwj2vteim76ta